PDT Staff Writer
SOUTH SHORE, Ky. — Lee Burton, an 86-year-old World War II veteran, was loafing one recent day in his favorite restaurant, the Short Stop, where a photo of him as a handsome 18-year-old sailor hangs on the wall.
He noticed a couple of young women in a nearby booth admiring the photograph.
He heard one of them say, “Boy, I’d sure like to hug that sailor’s neck right there.”
Burton stepped up to the booth, held out his arms, and said, “Honey, start huggin’!”
“Scared her to death, I guess,” he said. “She didn’t do it.”
Burton almost didn’t survive the war in which so many U.S. Navy men died on ships that served in the oceans around the world. He wasn’t wounded during his 31/2 years on the high seas, but said he believes he came within five minutes of dying.
He said his ship, the USS Saucy, a gunboat escorting U.S. convoys in the North Atlantic and the Caribbean, was hit by a torpedo from a German submarine.
“I had left the compartment just five minutes before it hit. Several men died in that compartment, which had to be sealed off while we limped into port for repairs.”
His memories of his war days are a bit fuzzy
to him now and he doesn’t remember where the torpedoing happened or the port where the ship went into dry dock while repairs were made.
“That was really the only time we were in deep trouble during my time on her,” he said.
It was in May 1943 that his ship assisted in the salvage of a torpedoed tanker, towing the ship into port and participating in repair operations for the next two weeks.
“I was a gunners mate, but I didn’t fire the guns. I repaired them and kept them in working order,” he said.
The sub hunter’s armament included a 4-inch gun, two 20-mm guns, two depth charge tracks and four depth charge projectors.
“With all the corrosion from that saltwater we really had to look after those guns and projectors.”
The Saucy (an adjective meaning impertinent boldness), a Temptress-class corvette, was launched in Northern Ireland in 1940 and served in Great Britain’s Royal Navy until 1942. On April 30 of that year she was transferred to the United States Navy at Belfast and commissioned the same day under the command of Lt. A.J. Smith as one of a group of corvettes transferred to the U.S. Navy under the Lend Lease plan.
It was 202 feet long and had a complement of 87 men. It began escort duty in the Caribbean, initially convoying ships between Trinidad and Barbados.
Burton, who was honorably discharged in late summer 1945, still served on the ship during its final days with the Navy on escort duty between Newfoundland, Greenland and Iceland.
Burton dropped out of Hitchins High School to join the Navy to “see the world.”
His medals he won include the World War II, the European African Middle East, the Asiatic Pacific Campaign and the American Campaign.
After the war, he moved to the South Shore area after landing a job at the Empire-Detroit Steel Mill in New Boston. He worked there for about 35 years, until it closed in 1980.
He has one daughter, Diane, who lives in Phoenix, Ariz., and has given him three grandchildren.
He and his second wife, the former Pearl Davis, share a nice brick home in King’s Addition, behind McKell Elementary School.
She has one artificial knee and says the other one is headed that way. But on just about any given Friday night, you’ll find her with Lee, at Whitey’s Music Barn in Wheelersburg, clogging round the floor or tap-dancing to a lively tune.
“Tap-dancing, clogging, square dancing. We love them all,” said Lee. “Dancing keeps the world on keel.”
G. SAM PIATT can be reached at (740) 353-3101,
ext. 236, or firstname.lastname@example.org.